As an FFA SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience project) Lemoore FFA students receive 8-10 week old Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers or Lab/Golden crosses, raise and socialize them for 14-16 months. The pups are bred and whelped at the Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. campus in San Rafael, California.
Pups are brought to the FFA members via a puppy truck or the members can travel to the campus to pick up their puppy. The students are responsible for the puppies 24/7 and are charged with introducing their puppies to as many different life situations as possible. Early on the puppies are taught their names, work on housebreaking and learn how to walk on a loose leash. Positive reinforcement techniques are taught to the FFA students, with these techniques being used throughout the socialization and raising period.
Starting at an early age puppy socialization experiences include, but are not limited to, going to school, shopping, going to movies, going to restaurants, concerts, plays, meetings, riding public transportation – any activity that a visually-impaired person may encounter in their day to day routine or life. FFA members raising the pups have no idea what the life style of the dog’s future partner may be, so it is very important that the pups have as many different life experiences as possible.
Puppies at Lemoore FFA go to school daily with their puppy raisers. Older dogs accompany their raisers to classes, while younger pups stay in Ms. Hearn’s classroom for doggy day care. If a FFA student raiser has done their job well, when the dog is recalled to the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in San Rafael, or Boring, Oregon at the age of 14-16 months, the actual guide dog training can be completed by a licensed guide dog trainer in three to six months.
At the end of the formal training period, the dog is placed with a blind person, who spends the next two weeks at one of the two Guide Dog campuses learning to work with his or her new partner. Upon completion of the two-week training period by the blind student and their new dog, there is a graduation ceremony, where the FFA member and their family are invited to the campus for the graduation ceremony to be reunited with the pup they raised and meet the dog’s new life partner.
Guide Dogs for the Blind is a non-profit organization that does not receive any governmental funding and provides their dogs free of charge (this includes training, veterinary costs and travel to the campus for training) to the blind individual. This is a non-paid, strictly volunteer project, done by the FFA members. The FFA Guide Dog Puppy Raising Project started at Lemoore High School in 1989. Lemoore FFA students brought national attention to the project and it was finally recognized as an FFA SAE project by the National FFA Association two years ago.
Lemoore FFA students are in the process of starting new puppies for several other FFA chapters throughout the Valley. Since the inception of the program at Lemoore High School, there are more than 250 FFA students in 10 Western states raising Guide Dog puppies as FFA projects. For more information about Guide Dogs for the Blind, go to www.guidedogs.com.